Drug maker Moderna sent a much-needed jolt of encouragement Monday by announcing that its coronavirus vaccine was 94.5% effective. While the findings are preliminary, and any widely available vaccine is still months away, the news could not have been better, or come at a more welcoming time, as the nation reels under a new surge of infections and as states and cities impose new restrictions to control the virus’ spread.
The results thrilled researchers and reaffirmed hopes after Pfizer, in collaboration with BioNTech, became the first to announce last week that its vaccine was more than 90% effective. Nearly a dozen other companies are conducting late-stage trials, and the early results from Pfizer and Moderna go far beyond meeting the Food and Drug Administration’s target of being at least 50% effective in order to be approved. And unlike Pfizer’s vaccine, Moderna’s does not require storage in super-cold freezers, likely making it quicker and easier to distribute.
The good news on the vaccine front came as the U.S. surpassed 11 million reported virus cases on Sunday, with one million reported in only the last week. The daily average of new cases is up by 80% from two weeks ago, as infections soar in towns of all sizes and the rural areas alike. Stay-at-home advisories went into effect Monday in Chicago, while a range of new restrictions — from temporary lockdowns and school closures to new mask mandates — took hold in Michigan, North Dakota and New Mexico.
Florida’s Department of Health reported 10,105 new coronavirus infections Sunday, the highest single-day total since July 25. State health officials also attributed 30 more deaths to the virus on Sunday, bringing Florida’s overall death toll throughout the pandemic to 17,734. With 885,201 people within the state having become infected, Florida’s overall coronavirus caseload is the third-highest in the nation, behind Texas (1.05 million) and California (1.02 million). Hospitalizations in the Tampa Bay area have risen by 24% in the past month, records show, putting new strains on the health care system as the winter flu season approaches.
The contrasting images of a worsening pandemic and the signs of a vaccine in the not-distant future highlights the challenges of the next few months. Congressional Republicans and Democrats need to agree on a targeted relief bill that provides another round of federal unemployment assistance, financial aid to those facing evictions and funds for cities and states to prepare for the rollout of a vaccine. In a tweet over the weekend, President Donald Trump again called for Congress to pass a “big and focused” bill. Senate Republicans had proposed about $500 billion, though congressional Democrats are holding out for more than $2 trillion. Democrats need to leverage the president’s support with Republicans to reach a practical compromise. They can always seek a supplemental measure in January if the situation warrants and they have the votes.
Americans also need to redouble their commitments to doing their part — to wear masks in public, socially distance and to keep congregating at a minimum. Families are making painful choices to forego group gatherings this holiday season. This is another in a year of sacrifices, but with the winter flu season approaching, the secret will be getting through the next several months until a vaccine is hopefully on the way. Monday was a big step in that direction, and it should encourage Americans to stick this out a little further.
An editorial from the Tampa Bay Times.